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Poor maintenance, illegal pipelines behind Dhaka gas crisis

  • Published at 09:02 pm May 10th, 2016
The natural gas crisis at Dhaka city households has been a long-standing problem, its persistence due to several issues regarding gas supply, pipeline maintenance and connections. Talking to government officials and Dhaka-dwellers, as well as consulting several other sources, the Dhaka Tribune identified five major problems that aid the gas crisis – out-of-date narrow pipelines, illegal connections, ban on new connections, inadequate supply to the national grid, and frequent accidents at source gas fields, households and other places. In the heart of all these problems is the state-run Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company Ltd, the sole gas distributor in the capital and its surrounding areas. It covers Dhaka, Narayanganj, Munshiganj, Narsingdi, Manikganj, Gazipur, Tangail, Mymensingh, Netrokona, Sherpur, Jamalpur and Kishoreganj districts. According to sources at Titas, a majority of the pipelines installed in Dhaka are out-of-date by decades – some are as many as 40 years old. These old pipelines are as narrow as 1.5-2 inches in diameter. No initiative to upgrade them has been taken till date. If the pipes had been replaced with broader pipes, many households would be spared from the crisis, said a top Titas official, seeking anonymity. Moreover, lack of proper maintenance has caused natural-gas condensate to accumulate inside the pipes over time, which also obstructs the normal gas flow. Natural-gas condensate is gaseous hydrocarbon components that are present in natural gas extracted from the gas fields. Another big problem related to pipeline maintenance is the number of leakages that have been reported in recent years. Accidents due to unexpected gas explosions have been on the rise increasing in a dramatic manner in recent times. According to the data provided by both Titas and Fire Service and Civil Defense, the number of such incidents have been several hundreds in the past few years. In 2014-2015 fiscal year alone, the number of leakages reported in Dhaka and surrounding areas were 5,123, and the number of fire caused by such leakages were 282. The most recent example of such incident is the horrific fire explosion in an Uttara flat earlier this year, which killed four members of the same family. This situation indicates an immediate need for an awareness campaign among people about safety measures required to tackle situations like this, but more importantly, proper maintenance of the distribution pipelines and connections must be maintained by the authorities concerned so that these accidents do not occur in the first place.

Illegal lines, lack of supply

According to Titas sources, around 300km of illegal gas distribution pipelines and 300,000 illegal connections have been detected so far in its jurisdiction. Most of these illegal pipelines were found in Dhaka, while some were found in Narayanganj, Narsingdi and Gazipur districts. These illegal connections consume at least 250mmcfd (million cubic feet per day) of gas, causing the government a loss of several hundred crores of taka on a daily basis. This problem may stem from the semi-official ban that the government imposed on the installation of new gas pipelines a few years ago, Titas officials said. What makes the situation worse is the lack of adequate supply to the national grid, said the officials. Supply to household remains inadequate because Petrobangla, the state-owned oil and gas company, has been unable to supply the required amount of gas to meet the ever-climbing demand, they claimed. Titas has around 1.55 million residential clients and distributes around 1,700mmcfd of gas against a daily demand of 2,200mmcfd, they said. “We have been facing these problems for a long time,” said Mir Moshiur Rahman, managing director of Titas. “However, we are considering a few projects to alleviate the problem of gas supply,” he told the Dhaka Tribune. He also said drives were underway to find the illegal connections and disconnect them immediately when found.

Power interruptions equally problematic

Besides gas crisis, Dhaka has been facing its share of power interruptions too. Sources at two power distribution companies in Dhaka – Dhaka Electric Supply Company Ltd (Desco) and Dhaka Power Distribution Company Ltd (DPDC) – said frequent interruptions in the capital's power supply was caused by mainly overload in transformers and substations as well as worn-out power lines. Development work, short circuits, daily maintenance, work on installing new lines or re-installing old ones, excess demand on the consumers’ end and other problems are also reasons behind the frequent interruptions, the said. Several hundred kilometres of Desco's 3,500km power lines are in dilapidated state, resulting in frequent interruptions in the power flow, Desco officials told the Dhaka Tribune. According to sources at the Power Division, at least 382 of Desco’s 5,332 transformers were overloaded, while 1,090 of the DPDC’s 9,348 transformers are overloaded.